Rosemary’s Baby is typical of Ira Levin’s writing in that it achieves its effects not by showcasing shocking passages of graphic horror but rather through the gradual accumulation of subtle details, many of which acquire ironic overtones in retrospect. Early in the story, for example, Rosemary compliments Guy’s talent for lying, never guessing how he will use this skill against her. Later Rosemary is impressed when Dr. Sapirstein takes such a personal interest in her welfare and pleased that such an experienced doctor can show such excitement about a pregnancy. Such details, which acquire new, sinister overtones in the light of the story’s conclusion, make a second reading of the book especially rewarding.
Levin lulls readers into a false sense of security by deliberately playing against their expectations. After setting up the Bramford as a variation of the classic “old dark house,” Levin introduces characters who are innocuous, even comical. These include overweight Minnie, who wears lime green pants, and Laura-Louise, who bakes gingerbread and crochets, both of whom are as far from the popular conception of witches as possible. Telling the story from Rosemary’s point of view, Levin maintains suspense by inviting readers to question Rosemary’s perceptions, even her sanity.
The themes of paranoia and victimization found in Rosemary’s Baby represent a heightening and intensification of plot elements found in...
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